I’m bound to receive more than a few quizzical looks from fellow grammar Nazis by publicly professing my love of Australian indie pop band An Horse, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. The music created by the duo of Kate Cooper (vocals/guitar) and Damon Cox (drums/vocals) is quickly gathering a healthy worldwide fan base, despite the band being relatively new to the scene. Heck, their full-length debut, Rearrange Beds, isn’t even available in stores yet, but they’ve already enjoyed touring Australia with Death Cab For Cutie and performing stateside dates opening for Tegan and Sara, which brought them to Madison last year. Not bad, eh?
Cooper and Cox first met several years ago while working together at a Brisbane record store. “We spent a couple of years just talking music and selling records,” explained Cooper. “We always kind of talked about playing together but we were both busy doing other things [Cooper was playing in Iron On, and Cox in Intercooler and Mary Trembles], and then one day Damon asked me to open up for one of his other bands solo. I said ‘Well, you know, we’ve always talked about us playing together. Why don’t you drum with me?’ We went into the practice room and started practicing and we kind of just liked it, and it worked well. That’s kind of how it all started.”
What started out as a fun collaboration between friends quickly became something much more thanks to a little help from Canadian indie rocker twins Tegan and Sara. The Australian leg of the girls’ tour led them to an in-store performance at Skinny’s, the record store where Cooper and Cox kept shop. During the downtime surrounding the show, the bands began chatting and struck up a friendship. Though Cooper and Cox hadn’t even toured as An Horse in their home country yet, Tegan and Sara were so impressed by the talents of their new friends that they soon gave the pair an offer they could hardly refuse: join them on the American leg of their 2008 tour. “It was a little overwhelming at first,” admitted Cox, “but we were up for it and it was very exciting.”
Months later, An Horse are now set to return to the states as headliners (including a stop at Madison’s own High Noon Saloon), and release their massively impressive debut, Rearrange Beds. Though often referred to in the music press as a “breakup album,” Cooper said, “It was just about a bit of a rough year that I had…I just feel sorry for Damon having to listen to me whine and moan because the whole time I was having a bad time was when I was with him and he had to hear it everyday about me having a rough time. Now he has to play the songs every night. He seems to think that it’s not an issue, but I just feel bad for him.”
Cooper went on to explain the sentiment behind the album’s creation: “I didn’t intend this to be a record about any one person or anything in particular. I didn’t even intend to write a record. I kind of always write songs and it just so happened that these are the bunch of songs that we worked on and became a record at the time we started playing together. Had we started playing together a bit earlier it would have been a completely different record.”
Indeed, there’s something tragic and painful about this album, but its songs also possess a palpable layer of positivity, which is just one of the characteristics that make Rearrange Beds such a fascinating listen. On the cover art, a disemboweled figure’s body rests on the cross, picked bare by birds against a backdrop of softly falling snow; a testament to both the naked vulnerability of the emotions lying within, and the nature of new beginnings–resurrection even, if you want to get all religious about it.
Take the determined lyrics from the track “Camp Out” for example: “This is a song for the one that I love/I haven’t met them yet/But I’m quietly confident/Although what if like you said/All I’m looking for/It doesn’t exist/Oh I have to believe it does,” followed by the clever nod to Courtney Love and Co: “Like that good Hole album/I can live through this/I can live through worse.” Though Cooper perplexedly claimed to cringe when singing it live, this contemplative bittersweet epic, reminiscent of those great ‘90s alterna-grunge anthems, is easily one of my favorite new songs of 2009.
The choppy punk rock-inspired guitars and tight start-and-stop drumming of “Postcards” is another fan favorite, but the album’s slow burners are just as captivating as the more obvious rockers are. The honesty of “Company” will stop you in your tracks as Cooper takes a chance on love and sings it to a climax: “And all my broken hearts/and all my forgettable false starts/Well you can have them right now/but you better not look away/You can have ‘em right now/but you better not look away/This me tying to be brave.”
Both in sound and sentiment, An Horse’s debut recalls artists like Mirah, Nada Surf, Rilo Kiley, PJ Harvey and Stars with that mesmerizing indie sparkle. As incredibly powerful as their music is (which is quite, especially when considering they’re only a duo), the poetry of Kate Cooper’s unapologetic lyrics clearly make Rearrange Beds all the more extraordinary. An Horse is, however, anything but a dictatorship. “I don’t really write lyrics. I kind of help arrange the songs with Kate, but she’s really the songwriter in the group,” said Cox.
“Yeah but we kind of write everything together,” Cooper added. “I bring in the skeletons but you know especially when Damon sings, you know I kind of say ‘I think something here,’ and then Damon always gets the vibe of what I’m singing about.”
Though they still experience moments of pinch-me-I’m-dreaming-disbelief at their swift success, Cooper notes that they had a good feeling about An Horse even from the start. “We were always very serious about playing music in other projects and all sorts of things, but this has kind of taken us both my surprise in a very good way because we knew when we started playing together that it was kind of special.”
“Camp Out” (acoustic)
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Filed under: Music News & Reviews, Music Shows This Week in Madison, Sounding Board Blog Tagged: | An Horse, Australian bands, Damon Cox, Indie-pop, Intercooler, Interview, Iron On, Kate Cooper, Mary Trembles, Pezzettino, Tegan and Sara, Whatfor